James A. Bancker papers, 1842-1849


Date: 1842-1849 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet


Written from China to his family, the letters of James Bancker contain descriptions of the social life of the Americans and English in China, of Hong Kong after the British acquisition of that place, and of anti-British riots in Canton. A long letter describes the outward voyage from New York to Canton; several letters given an account of a visit to the Philippines; and there is a partial journal of Bancker's return home through the Red Sea.

Background note

James Bancker was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. His father, Charles Nicoll Bancker, established the Franklin Insurance Company. The Banckers had a long history of business and merchant endeavors dating to the colonial era.

James Bancker was educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He later assisted his father at the Franklin Insurance company, working from their offices on Wall Street in New York City. In the 1840s, he left for China to explore trading opportunities. He returned to the United States in 1850 and continued working as a merchant. He died in 1897 in New York City.

Collection Information

Physical description

46 items.


Gift from Sarah B. Mortimer and accessioned, 11/--/1962 (1962 2289ms).

Naval History Note

As a merchant in the China trade, Bancker was witness to the early efforts of the United States Navy to project its power into east Asia, especially in Macao, Canton, and Hong Kong.

Early American History Note

This collection of letters (40+) consists primarily of James Bancker writing to his family from Asia in the 1840s. The collection offers a vivid depiction of an American's life abroad in the nineteenth century. The letters convey quotidian information, such as the type of food he is eating, to more remarkable events, such as witnessing a comet. Bancker also witnessed a number of significant political events while in China, including the acquisition of Hong Kong by Great Britain and resistance to this takeover from the Hong Kong residents (1842-1843). These events, the rioting in particular, are recounted in his often long and detailed correspondence to his Philadelphia-based family. Bancker spent much of his time in Canton, but he also described visits to the Philippines and voyage to and from China. Combined, the collection provides a lens in the experiences of a wealthy American traveling abroad in the midst of the nineteenth century.

Indexing Terms


  • Business Records and Accounts
  • Family Correspondence
  • General Correspondence

Geographic Name(s)

  • China -- Foreign relations -- 1644-1912.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- Asia.
  • Hong Kong (China) -- Colonization.
  • Philippines -- Description and travel.


  • Merchants - United States


  • Americans -- China -- Social life and customs.
  • Americans Abroad
  • Beyond Early America
  • British -- China -- Social life and customs -- 1644-1912.
  • Business and Skilled Trades
  • International Trade.
  • International Travel
  • Marriage and Family Life
  • Trade
  • Travel
  • Voyages and travels.

Detailed Inventory

 Photographs from APS photograph collection
F11.21.5 James A. Bancker.
undatedSize: mount 30.5 x 25.5 cm., image 14 x 10 cm. Format: 1 photoimageLH-B-33